For a legislative session that was supposed to be short and focused on the basics, the final days of the annual ruckus at the Gold Dome reverted to the usual wrangling, arm-twisting and backroom maneuvering.
In a state with a solid, one-party lock on both chambers of the legislature, there’s no sound reason why Georgians have to each year live with the less-than-optimal aftermath of the 11th-hour scrum that passes for lawmaking. Too often, as a result, the people’s business is left undone, or accomplished in a haphazard, slipshod manner.
Given all the substitutions and amendments bandied about that’re not yet fully available for examination, it’s not possible yet for this Editorial Board – and likely many lawmakers themselves – to duly assess just what all was wrought during this session. That caveat voiced, we offer here our first-cut opinion on some of the legislation that was in the limelight.
Privatization of foster care
Shuddering to a rough halt in the last hours of the session was legislation that would have begun privatizing much of the state’s foster care system. This issue is wrapped in strong emotions, as it should be, thanks in good measure to dogged reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the shortcomings of the current system. Its failings have seen too many Georgia children die unnecessarily.
Yet, rushing toward privatization carries its own risks of possibly squandering additional taxpayer dollars while ending up with new systems that still do not adequately fix entrenched problems.
Political squabbling led Gov. Nathan Deal a week ago to step into the charged fray. He announced yet another study committee to examine the issue. We’ve been critical at times of Georgia’s affinity for commissions and such which duly produce findings that are too often conveniently ignored.
Yet, given mixed results from other states’ attempts at privatization, at this point we’ll side with Deal. His step-back at least lets Georgia consider this important matter in a less-politically charged environment. That’s a prudent, if far from comprehensive, first step forward. And the momentum should continue until a truly improved system is in place.
Now that lawmakers have once more fled the Gold Dome, they will incessantly invoke the phrase “job creation” between now and November. They’re unlikely to admit it, but one of the best actions they undertook to help this state’s employment picture over the long haul came when a House Committee pounded down to defeat an ill-advised bill that would have yanked Georgia out of the Common Core State Standards for education.
If we truly intend to compete as a state and give our children the best chance of earning a decent living or getting into a quality post-secondary school anywhere in the world, then Georgia cannot expect to make up our own rules and go it alone in a global economy.
The Common Core standards championed by GOP former Gov. Sonny Perdue are a critical part of a multi-pronged, still-ongoing effort to improve public education here. That cannot be forgotten, even in an election year. So kudos go to the House Education Committee for derailing the anti-Common Core train.
In its seemingly incessant quest to draw new, dark curtains around information that the general public has a reasonable right to know, the General Assembly passed HB 837, which renders secret basic information about how private probation companies are managing their portion of the criminal justice system.
An AJC story on Thursday described its effect this way: “HB 837 would keep secret from the public such basic information as how many low-level offenders are under the companies’ supervision, how much they collected in court fines and how many arrest warrants have been issued as a result of tolling (the practice of stopping the clock on sentences being served if offenders fall behind in payments). If a court asks, the companies must tell it how much they collected in fees for supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug and alcohol testing, but the public cannot see that information.”
This measure neuters accountability and keeps society in the dark about how a significant part of justice is being served. Under any reasonable interpretation of an open society, this bill fails the test. Gov. Deal should veto it.
Matters left undone
While legislators burned precious time engaging in political theatrics, serious, legitimate issues were inexcusably left undone for yet another year. Among them are matters which will affect the future success of our state. Comprehensive tax reform, post-T-SPLOST transportation solutions and a needed overhaul of the antiquated public school funding formula rise to the top of this list. Between now and election day, voters should question lawmakers hard about just what happened here.
All in all, this state deserves better. In spite of lawmakers’ efforts at times, Georgia is an increasingly influential entity in the national and world economy. The world’s eyes are often upon us. Most of us have worked hard to make that so.
Our lawmakers need to belatedly internalize that fact and govern themselves accordingly.
To continue on a different path, emphasizing slogans and showmanship over substantive treatment of urgent business, puts Georgia’s prosperity at unnecessary risk. Voters should demand better and lawmakers must provide it.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.